Outtakes From Self’s Interview with Linh Dinh, Pacific Rim Review of Books, Summer 2008

Self is cleaning out her files and coming up with all sorts of odds and ends:  her published book reviews, tossed hastily into drawers.  Write-ups on her books.  Interviews with other writers.

She pauses over the interview she did with Linh Dinh.  Linh and self first met at the 2005 Berlin Festival on Southeast Asian Art and Literature, organized by the House of World Culture (only six months after the appointment of a new Director, who had been a professor at the University of Heidelberg.  She and two of her graduate students pulled the whole thing together by e-mail.)

The interview she did with him is one of her all-time favorites.  Here are excerpts.  Each of Dinh’s answers reads like a short short:

Self:  You left Vietnam in March 1975, just a month before the fall of Saigon.  And your official biography lists you as having a “fake name,” Ly Ky Kiet.  What was its purpose?

In March of 1975, as the shit was about to hit the fan, my father arranged for his secretary, me and my brother to evacuate with a Chinese family.  This family had a daughter working for the Americans.  In order to safeguard their properties, some of the family chose to stay behind.  And they ended up selling my father three spots.

We all took fake names.  My brother’s was Ly Ky Vinh.  My father hired the secretary to take care of my brother and I.  She was 22, Chinese, with a very short temper, and a face that was round and puffy like a dumpling, liberally sprinkled with meaty pimples.  I wrote about the episode in “April 30th of Ly Ky Kiet.”

*     *     *     *     *

Self:  You write experimentally in both fiction and poetry, and your work seems to consistently break accepted norms in an overt attempt to play with form.  What attracts you to this?

I started out as a painter.  Working with oil, I strived to improvise, to think, as I was painting.  Play was a central concept in my work.  I was also Read the rest of this entry »

Thirty Minutes to the Last Day of July 2012

Self is teaching an on-line memoir class, and her students are amazing and lively and curious.

There’s that, to begin with.

Then, the sense of satisfaction with the day (still Monday) is that she got to see the “Dark Knight” movie, which she’d rate probably a B+.

Then she mailed a story to Conjunctions.

And she joined yet another contest.

Now she is reading, from her Pile of Stuff, a back issue of The New Yorker. Apparently, the day’s lessons are still not over, for she finds herself absorbed in a review of a World War II novel (as if self hasn’t read dozens of those already; yet she feels drawn to each new book that comes out and invariably finds herself spending more time on reviews of World War II books than on any other types of books). And here are the things she’s discovered:

The author of the novel (whose title is weird and whimsical at the same time: HHhH, which stands for — oh, never mind what it stands for. Take self’s word for it, it is weird and whimsical) is a “French writer and academic” named Laurent Binet. That fact means nothing to self, and might even have caused self to stop reading the rest of the review, except that Binet asserts that “invented facts — invented characters, for that matter — have no place in historical fiction, and weaken it both aesthetically and morally.” Binet has written: “Inventing a character in order to understand historical facts is like fabricating evidence.”

Binet’s novel turns out to be about a monster named Reinhard Heydrich — and self, who has read so many books on World War II, had never heard of this particular monster. Self learns that Heydrich “planned Kristallnacht.” She is properly chastised about the depth of her World War II knowledge. She reads on.

An important event during World War II was the convening of the Wannsee Conference, on January 20, 1942. The name rings a bell, but it is not as loud as the bell that went off in self’s head when she read that the conference was held “in an elegantly somber villa on the shore of Lake Wannsee.”

A few sentences on, self learns that there is a “beautiful memorial in Berlin’s Grunewald S-Bahn station, which calmly records the numbers, dates, and destinations of each of the city’s mass deportations of Jews (all of whom left from the station).” Self has been in Berlin and wishes she’d read this review before. But of course, she couldn’t have, because she was in Berlin in 2005, and Binet hadn’t written the novel yet, and James Woods hadn’t reviewed it (of course), and if he’d never read the novel he’d never have written the review and would never have thought of mentioning Grunewald station.

And then self reads that “many of those present at the Wannasee Conference lived justly shortened lives” (Self almost cheers). Heydrich himself was assassinated, four months later, in Prague, by two Czech parachutists sent by the Czech government-in-exile in England. Heydrich was riding through Prague in an open-topped Mercedes, and his driver had to slow as the car rounded a bend in a city street. And that was where the men chose to attack.  SPOILER ALERT!  The men’s guns jammed but one had the presence of mind to throw a grenade, and Heydrich died a week later when he developed septicemia.  “Reprisals were blind and absolute: the village of Lidice, near Prague, mistakenly thought by the Nazis to have some connection with the parachutists, was burned to the ground . . . ”

(In the meantime, The Man, who went to bed two hours ago, apparently is still able to whine, in the middle of a dead sleep: YOU’RE MAKING TOO MUCH NOISE WITH YOUR TYPING. He’s like an octopus that never sleeps. Neeeever sleeps)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

3rd (Extremely, Extremely Hawwtt) Monday of July 2012

Self caught the first screening of the last installment of Chris Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, meaning she was at the Century 20 at 10:30 a.m. this morning.

She’d been wanting to see it, but the almost-three-hour running time quite dissuaded her.

The theater was almost half full, not bad for a Monday. And she completely forgot about Colorado. Well, self exaggerates a bit. She remembered, but only about 3/4 of the way through the movie. Actually, she even forgot that the movie was a long one. Several things about it quite surprised her. To wit:

She actually enjoyed Anne Hathaway in the role of Catwoman. For a while, she amused herself imagining a young Catherine Zeta-Jones or a Kate Beckinsale or even an Eva Mendes in the role. First of all, self doesn’t like actresses with such big eyes. And one cannot dispute the fact that Anne Hathaway’s orbs are like saucers. If she weren’t so pretty, it would be disturbing. Next, she is quite the curvaceous woman. And sometimes self thinks that Catwoman should be played by someone whippet-thin. The moment when Hathaway won self over? At one point, she is conversing with someone, and is called upon to express scorn. She does so by a very, very slow blink. This is no fancy-shmancy computer-generated slow blink here, but the actress actually executing a masterful display of eyelid-control. After that, self loved Hathaway’s Catwoman and didn’t even mind that her hair was chestnut (and a fake-looking chestnut, at that) and that her bung was extremely large (a fact which no self-respecting member of the audience could fail to notice, especially in the motorcycle-riding scenes at the end)

She began feeling nostalgic about Christian Bale.  Another confession:  his two earlier Dark Knight outings left self quite unmoved.  She remembers all the various Batman incarnations:  the Smart-aleck Batman (Michael Keaton), the Hunk Batman (Val Kilmer), the Dapper Batman (George Clooney — Self absolutely thinks Batman should not be dapper, even though she loves GC).  When Christian Bale presented as Batman, he seemed bland.  And then, Chris Nolan’s Batman was high opera and self wasn’t sure she liked Katie Holmes and then Katie gave way to Maggie Gyllenhaal only look what happened to her, and now in this movie we have a nice (meaning: surprisingly moral) Catwoman and Marion Cotillard.

Perhaps self was feeling nostalgic about Christian Bale because she’d heard that the next Batman would be Ryan Reynolds?  Not that she has anything against Ryan Reynolds.  But he simply cannot do dark and brooding.

So it is good that the last Dark Knight should end with Bale.  And self must say, this movie was just packed with A-list character actors:  Besides Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman, there was even a hilarious cameo by that chisel-cheeked, gorgeous, Interesting Bad Guy Who Might Be Either Irish or Scottish (Darn, what is his name???) who occurs in only a few scenes towards the end, but whose appearance (in a jacket that looks as if it had been attacked by a million rats) and manner of pounding the gavel (He plays a judge of some sort) had self absolutely in stitches!

Self had seen Joseph Gordon Levitt in a previous Batman, and it was really stupid:  he played a Bad Guy.  JGL’s turn as a Bad Guy in a Batman movie should mercifully be forgotten.  He was about as Bad as a paper cut.  Compared to Jim Carrey’s androgynous Joker, and Jack Nicholson’s truly menacing Joker, and Danny de Vito’s Penguin, and Aaron Eckhardt’s Two-Face, JGL’s Bad Guy was so forgettable that self can’t even remember his character’s name.

But all of that is erased by this movie, because here JGL plays a. Very. Smart. Cop.

Three cheers for the rehabilitation of JGL in the Batman franchise!

Let’s see, what else about today is worth mentioning?  Other than the fact that self spent three hours in a darkened movie theater and then emerged to extreme heat?

  • She went to Rite-Aid and was inveigled to join some Rite-Aid Membership Club.
  • She lined up at the post office to mail a story to Conjunctions and was just congratulating herself on this not being a contest submission (thereby enabling self to stop hemorrhaging contest entry fees, an act of supreme discipline), when it dawned on her that she had forgotten to put a stamp on the SASE, such was her hurry to go out the door.  But if she tore open the mailing envelope, the story might fall out during transit.  Self decided she could take her chances with Conjunctions.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

A Super-Duper Nice Rejection

Now, this is what self considers a truly nice rejection!

It’s from the Paris Review:

Self was on Cloud 9 for days after getting this in the mail.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Recommended by Joan Rivers, and Other Choice Bits From The NYTBR of July 22, 2012

Joan Rivers is one of self’s favorite people: Self is NOT, absolutely NOT kidding.

And guess what? She is the interviewee in this issue’s “By the Book” feature. And her book recommendations are — hold on to your hats, dear blog readers! — as follows:

  • The Passage of Power:  The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert A. Caro
  • a “four-volume history of English kings” by Thomas B. Costain:  The Conquering Family, The Three Edwards, The Magnificent Century, and The Last Plantagenets
  • Enter Talking, by Joan herself (her first book)
  • The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West
  • Adventures in the Screen Trade, by William Goldman
  • Life Itself, Roger Ebert’s memoir
  • The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
  • Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

The Fiction Chronicle (this week’s reviewer:  Tom LeClair) contains two entertaining reviews:  The first is a review of An Uncommon Education, by Elizabeth Percer, which is about a young girl who “endures a secretive and lonely childhood until a boy named Teddy moves into the neighborhood.”  The second is a review of Drowned, by Therese Bohman, and even though the reviewer does not really like the book (He describes it as having an “aura of artifice”), self can never resist a book that sounds very much like that movie Elizabeth Olsen was in, the one where she sleeps with her older sister’s handsome Significant Other (played by Hugh Dancy) after escaping from a cult ?!!!  The movie was called Martha Marcy May Marlene and self totally missed it when it was showing in theaters, but that is definitely something she is adding to her Netflix queue.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Colonizing Self (Finding Inspiration in Sid Meier’s ALPHA CENTAURI)

It has been suggested to self that if she truly desires to stay more in the Philippines, she should consider becoming a nun.

There is a Trappist monastery on Guimaras.

Self is quite sure she will visit this monastery, on her next stay in Bacolod.  It can be reached quite easily by pump boat from Pulupandan.

It will be hard for self to assume the veil, however, since her imagination (aka her “inner life”) is so wild and uncontrollable.  She might end up driving Mother Superior crazy.  She might even be accused of infecting her sister nuns with her innate restlessness.

Which brings us to —

A long, long time ago, when self was the mother of a grade-school boy, she used to be read to, all the time.  Son would be so excited over a new computer or video game that he would insist on reading the game manual to her.

One time, he read to self from the manual for Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.  This self-same manual is in self’s hands at this very moment.  It was abandoned in son’s room when he went off to the Wild Blue Yonder, which is to say college.

Abandoned, but not forgotten!  Not, at least, by self!

This afternoon, self was busy preparing son’s room for her brother-in-law and his wife, who will be visiting with us for a week starting this Saturday.  And self undertook to straighten up the bookshelves in son’s room, which is where brother-in-law and his wife (who neither self nor The Man have ever met) are to stay.  And she found this book and thought, Hmmm.  What if she opened it?  Which she did.

She opened to a random page, and found herself at the opening of Chapter 4:  “Colonizing Planet,” which goes:

Your faction begins as a few huddled refugees in a single, makeshift encampment.  It’s up to you to see that it grows into a self-sufficient, globally dominant society.

Your fundamental goal on Planet is for your faction to survive and thrive.  Your faction expands, in terms of size, power and influence, by building new bases.  These bases are each independent, self-contained ‘cities’ —  the centers of your faction’s economic, military, technological and social progress.

From the above, it was of course only a small step to conjuring the world of “Extinction,” the story self sent to ZYZZYVA a year later.  It was accepted for publication, and subsequently formed part of her second collection, published by Miami University Press, Mayor of the Roses.

Here’s an excerpt:

The coastlines were bare, and the soil on which the people had built their homes was slowly washing out to sea.  Thus there was great fear and trepidation in the coastline villages, and the people there generally exhibited the clinical symptoms of depression.

Funny, typing that second sentence, self was suddenly reminded that son is currently in a Ph.D. program in Social Psychology.  Did her fascination with all manifestations of human personality have anything to do with it?  All she knows is that son used to be her most astute interpreter.  (And he had a nickname for her, too:  He called her “Mood Swing”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Three New Movies for the Netflix Queue

Self is so excited!  She is really making progress on her HUMONGOUS Pile of Stuff!  Now she can actually see the bottom of this huge box where she stuffed everything she’s received in the mail since the start of the year!  Oh happy happy joy joy!

The latest thing self yanked out of the box was a copy of The New Yorker, the Mar. 19, 2012 issue.  Self doesn’t know how in the heck this issue got lost for so long, but never mind.  The capsule reviews in the front of the magazine all refer to movies long gone. Movies like “Friends with Kids” (Of all things, The New Yorker criticizes it for being “smug,” for not showing a “hint that other worlds and values may be beyond the city limits” BWAH HA HAAA!) and “Safe House” (Ryan Reynolds doing Read the rest of this entry »

Sunny in Redwood City, Foggy in San Bruno

Today self and The Man watched a little of the Olympics:  the rowing, the sculling, and the U.S. women’s soccer game in Glasgow. The women, the world knows by now, scored three goals to beat Colombia.

Picture Window, Self’s Living Room

Earlier today, self was in San Bruno.  When she left home, 9:30 a.m., Redwood City was already starting to feel hot.  Driving north on 280, self saw fog spilling over the mountains.  Thick fog.  The light was beautiful.

Then she passed the signs for San Francisco Airport.  Here, she had to turn on the car heater.

When she arrived in San Bruno, it was windy and cold.  As usual, self was very inappropriately dressed, in white cut-offs and thin summer blouse and sandals.

She stopped by Goldilocks on the way home and had a bowl of ginataan.  She started reading the book she brought with her, Scotland’s Bookshelf.  Reading an excerpt from Ali Smith’s 2011 novel Girl Meets Boy made self want to take a picture of her surroundings, she’s not sure why.  She decided, however, to honor the impulse. After all, who knows if she’ll ever have another urge to take a picture from Goldilocks?  And here is that picture.  Foggy, cold San Bruno — just like Edinburgh in June.

Westborough Boulevard, the view from Goldilocks

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Scotland’s Bookshelf, Part III

Well, it’s been almost a month since self has been back in California.

She misses the Quidditch team (naturally).

She.  Has.  Got.  To.  Make.  It.  Back.  To.  Edinburgh.  Someday.

When most susceptible to sighing nostalgia, self turns to the little booklet she picked up from Bonnyrigg Library:  Scotland’s Bookshelf:  A Celebration of 100 Years of Scottish Writing.

The booklet is made up of excerpts from the work of Scottish writers, ranging over the past 100 years.  Each decade is represented by two writers. The representative two for the decade 2000 to 2011 are  Janice Galloway and Ali Smith.  Self has read Galloway but not Smith.

Here’s an excerpt from Smith’s novel, Girl Meets Boy:

Let me tell you about when I was a girl, my grandfather says.

It is Saturday evening; we always stay at their house on Saturdays.  The couch and the chairs are shoved back against the walls.  The teak coffee table from the middle of the room is up under the window.  The floor has been cleared for the backward and forward somersaults, the juggling with oranges and eggs, the how-to-do-a-cartwheel, how-to-stand-on-your-head, how-to-walk-on-your-hands lessons.  Our grandfather holds us upside-down by the legs until we get our balance.  Our grandfather worked in a circus before he met and married our grandmother.  He once did headstands on top of a whole troupe of headstanders.  He once walked a tightrope across the Thames.  The Thames is a river in London, which is five hundred and twenty-seven miles from here, according to the mileage chart in the RAC book in among our father’s books at home.  Oh, across the Thames, was it?  our grandmother says.  Not across the falls at Niagara?  Ah, Niagara, our grandfather says.

Found in The New Yorker, Talk of the Town (March 12, 2012)

Three great opening sentences (What, you expected more from self this morning?  Excuuuse me!  It is Saturday morning and there are ga-zillions of farmers markets, all over the place! And as you can see from the date of the issue about to be quoted from, self is extremely extremely backed up with her reading!)

Without further ado:

  • Opening Sentence # 1:  “Broadway, like New York City, is a place where petty comforts are fought for but rarely won.” (from a piece by Michael Shulman about the installation of ergonomic seats in Broadway theaters)
  • Opening Sentence # 2:  “On one of those indecisive early winter afternoons —  warm in the sun, nippy out of it —  Chucker Branch” (What a great name, by the way:  self must use in a story!) “and Christine Lehner, his partner, were on the roof of the Whitney Museum, winterizing their bees.”  (from a piece by Calvin Tomkins)
  • Opening Sentence # 3:  “Given that the area surrounding City Hall has the highest birth rate of any neighborhood in Manhattan, adding a kids’ store to the strip of Park Row occupied by J & R Music and Computer World would seem to be a no-brainer, like wearable speakers for expectant mothers.” (from a piece by Robert Sullivan about the opening of J & R Jr.)

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